President Obama and congressional leaders were preparing to make a last-ditch try for a deal — or at least a plan — to avert the imminent fiscal crisis, with a high-stakes meeting scheduled at the White House for Friday afternoon just days before the deadline for action.
The meeting with Obama and the top four leaders on the Hill is their first since Nov. 16. The president has been pressing all sides to come together on a scaled-down package that can at least shield most Americans from a tax hike beginning next week.
But hope was fading for any agreement or legislation before Jan. 1, as accusations began to fly about who was to blame for a looming $500 billion tax increase .
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the floor Thursday that “it looks like” the nation is going to miss the deadline.
“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing,” Reid said. “He’s waiting until Jan. 3 to get re-elected as speaker before he gets serious with negotiations because he has so many people … that won’t follow what he wants.”
Boehner’s office quickly shot back: “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that his party has “bent over backwards.”
“We stepped way, way out of our comfort zone,” he said. We wanted an agreement, but we had no takers. The phone never rang. So here we are five days from the new year and we might finally start talking.”
But he also warned, “Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for anything the Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves on the edge of the cliff.”
Separately, Vice President Biden said he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about a deal. “You tell me what will attract Republican votes and I will tell you” what sort of plan might work, he said.
Each side continues to call on the other to act.
Reid, on the floor, urged the House to pass a Senate bill that would extend current tax rates for most families but let them rise on top earners. Reid, who wants Boehner to let the bill pass with mostly Democratic votes, claimed the chamber was “being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker.”
Boehner put the onus on the Senate, referring to two Republican-passed bills in his chamber — one extending current tax rates for everyone; the other rearranging the $110 billion in spending cuts set to hit next year.
Buck said late Thursday that Boehner will attend the White House meeting, “where he will continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act.”
McConnell’s aides, meanwhile, claimed they expected some sort of plan to emerge from the Democratic side.
After Obama spoke separately with all four congressional leaders Wednesday before leaving Hawaii, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said: “The leader is happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate Democrat majority has not put forward a plan. When they do, members on both sides of the aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best to proceed.”
With each side refusing to make the first move, it may be incumbent upon Obama to give a negotiated bill one last try, presuming he can get all the stakeholders in the same room. Also unclear is what role McConnell, who has stayed largely quiet throughout this debate, may play in pushing for an 11th-hour deal.
A new Gallup poll, though, showed Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the chances for an agreement over the next few days. Considering the time it takes to write and pass a bill of this magnitude, the best route for averting tax hikes may be to pass a short-term extension of current rates with the goal of approving a larger package early next year.
Lawmakers have not even agreed to that, though. Without a deal, more than $500 billion in tax hikes are scheduled to go into effect. This includes increases in income tax rates, investment tax rates, the estate tax, the payroll tax and other provisions. Budget cuts to the Pentagon and other federal agencies threaten to hit government contractors. All together, a prolonged failure to avert these policies could cause another recession, economists warn.
Source: Fox News